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7 reasons for quilting UFOs and how to overcome them

by Carla A. Canonico

Mom and I were so relieved to have finished the two baby quilts, as it’s always exciting as you know, to move on to the next quilting project.

In looking for the batting for one of the baby quilts, mom asked me to look in a box of fabric in the closet and when I found the batting and opened it up, this is what I found. A quilting UFO!

While looking for a piece of batting for the baby quilt, I found one of mom's quilting UFOs ... must finish it after we finish the baby quilts.

While looking for a piece of batting for the baby quilt, I found one of mom’s quilting UFOs … must finish it after we finish the baby quilts.

When I asked mom, she said that she left it as we had last looked at the color combination three years ago. I had totally forgotten about it. She wasn’t keen on finishing it and wasn’t sure what to do with the pieces, but we used the batting for the baby quilts we were doing as the size was perfect.

Talk about procrastination… it’s safe to say mom abandoned the idea entirely.

I’m imagining a cream colored fabric to help this quilt along at which point mom’s eyes started to light up with the thoughts that not all was lost…So it’s back to thinking a little about it, and exploring other pattern possibilities.

Let’s explore the reasons for quilting UFOs.

Quilting UFOs, or any UnFinished Object in any field, is more of a sign that a person is feeling stuck or overwhelmed by the project.

Over the decades, in my whole experience in working on any needlework project I haven’t accumulated any UFO for too long a period of time. On examining why I might have left a project by the wayside, I realized quickly that I was either stuck creatively or by a technique, or I was overwhelmed by the task, in the sense of skill level and having too much going on in my life to focus.

I’ve never been the type of person to have a lot of needlework projects going on at once. One was enough for me to revel in, unwind with and get maximum satisfaction from when the last stitch was completed. My brain says, ” Done”, and like the computer, refreshes itself automatically ready for the next happy project.

It’s very common for quilters, to procrastinate finishing a project, and there are so many reasons for this which I’ve listed here to help me sort them out, which in turn helps me to complete the project. When we’re aware of why that lap quilt is sitting on our table, we can find a solution to move forward with it.

Creative blocks: stuck because the project isn’t looking like you imagined it would.

Step back for a day and daydream of what inspired in making this project in the first place. Looking at other similar quilts, Pinterest really helps here, helps you get back on your ‘design’ track. Another thought is to take a picture of it and look at it from a ‘little print’ view; what’s bothering you about the layout, or the colors or colorway, will usually pop right out!

Stuck on a technicality: literally, is there a technique you’re doing for the first time? Is it scaring you?

Check out blogs and YouTube videos, ask a friend or a teacher, take a class (?). Most importantly take the plunge, give it a whirl on scrap fabric first, then when you’re happy about the result, do it in ‘good copy’.

Too much going on in your life: it’s okay, life happens, don’t expect that you’ll finish it in a couple of days.

Take the baby-step approach, one ‘stitch’ a day is better than no stitch at all! Work on it 30 min every day to keep it alive.

The quilt is a bigger task than originally anticipated: like, you’re overwhelmed by it.

This is not a bad thing. Think about it, in your subconscious mind, something about the quilt inspired you to make it, to fall in love with it, and now in reality, there are skills you didn’t realize you didn’t quite have. What? You mean you can’t learn anything anymore? Now you’re ‘stuck on a technicality’, grow with your quilting experience, learn, and hop back on that quilting horse!

I made a mistake and got really frustrated: Yup, I know the feeling.

Let it go for a few days, do something else. Then get the seam ripper. It won’t hurt and there are no shortcuts.

Is your sewing space cluttered? Maybe your studio is in a mess from the last quilt (s) you tackled and now the scraps are getting in the way and quilting tools are lying around.

No one likes to do housework, not really. Even I don’t like it, but I love the uplifting sense of fresh I get after, it ‘declutters’ the brain too. And check your light fixture, is it serving you enough light without creating shadows? If you can’t see properly for any reason be it clutter or lighting, it will affect your stamina.

Your sewing machine isn’t performing as it should: heaven forbid. Don’t even say it out loud.

Quietly think to yourself if you need to get it refurbished, buy a new one or change the needle, check the tension. Your sewing machine is your best friend whether it’s an expensive one or not, it should always work – take a few minutes to assess the situation. Ask for help. I know that the few times I’ve had an issue with my sewing machine, my local sewing machine repair shop ‘That Sewing Place‘ has been a life saver (or should I say quilt saver?), I can walk in or call in any time for sewing machine info. Find a sewing machine repair place nearest to where you live.

As simple as adding a cream colored piece of quilting fabric to the charm square selection already adds lift to the color scheme.

As simple as adding a cream colored piece of quilting fabric to the charm square selection already adds lift to the color scheme.

It’s most refreshing to finish a project, it clears our mind like doing housework, dusting off shelves, sweeping up pieces so we can walk barefoot on our ‘creative ground’.

Quilting UFOs are your friend, because when you knuckle down and pick up a forlorn project subconsciously you build self confidence, learn not to be intimidated by a piece of fabric.

Join me and mom next Sunday to see where our quilting UFO journey takes us.

This is part 1 of 5 in this series.



Katherine h November 20, 2016 - 4:13 pm

Thanks for this. I seem to get stuck at the quilting stage often. Some good food for thought here

Jenna Z September 7, 2016 - 3:40 pm

Yes to all of these reasons! Bust I think most often I get stuck on a technical issue that stumps me and I just give up and shove it back in the closet and start something new!

Keitha Rod August 22, 2016 - 7:44 pm

Hi Carla, your words about quilting a UFO have really struck a chord with me and have made me think about why I start things but don’t finish them!
I find it almost impossible to machine quilt anything bigger than cot-size, so have decided I must try hand quilting.
I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, besides which I want to be able to say “I did it all myself”.

Regards, Keitha


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